SS Hell Camp
(La Bestia in Calore)
"Put your trust in the Lord. He's the best!"
In his review for the 1994 Rob Reiner movie North, Roger Ebert proclaimed:
I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
This diatribe would later go on to be truncated in the popular imagination as "I hated, hated, hated this movie," which would also later go on to be the title of a book Ebert wrote about (guess what?) bad movies. Rarely have I felt as intensely negative about a movie as Roger Ebert must have on the day he wrote that review (and I even saw North in a movie theater as a kid). Currently, I can only think of three that have ever made me feel this way: the low-budget MST3K-fodder Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, the inane, inspid, and uninspired "comedy" Haiku Tunnel, and the inconceivably awful SS Hell Camp. SS Hell Camp is a 1977 movie whose original title was La Bestia in Calore, which I guess means "the Beast in Heat" in the movie's native Italian. Fellini it ain't.
I usually like to discuss movies I review ad nauseum so as not to cheat you, fair reader, out of any of the important points of symbolism, theme, or plot. Since this movie has no symbolism, theme, or plot, this will be a comparatively short write-up. Also, I like to watch the movies I review again before actually reviewing them so I can take some notes to be better prepared for when I do the writeup, and I refuse to watch SS Hell Camp ever again unless I am positive it will spontaneously cause three hot chicks in a Mustang to appear at my doorstep to play a round of bedroom Twister with me, and even then it's a maybe. The reason SS Hell Camp has no plot is because it's actually three totally unrelated movies edited together into an audio-visual holocaust the likes of which I hope to never see again. This is one of the few movies I have ever tried to return to the store after watching it, despite knowing full well the store wouldn't take it back. For the sake of my conscience, I had to know that I at least made the effort.
In a nutshell, the concept behind the movie is this: the evil female SS scientist Dr. Ellen Kratsch (misspelled on the DVD's back cover as "Krast," showing you how seriously the company takes it) runs a dungeon in the Wehrmacht-occupied Republic of Salo in what is now Northern Italy in the final days of the Second World War. The Germans, apparently having nothing better to do with their time, sponsor Kratsch's genetic experiments to create the perfect Aryan superman in the form of the Beast. The fact that the Beast is actually an overweight Italian man with a lot of body hair evidently does not faze Dr. Kratsch, and the experiment is declared a success. In what is without a doubt the best part of the movie, she makes out with one of her subordinate female SS officers evidently as a treat for herself. It's all downhill from here. Dr. Kratsch makes it her goal to torture hapless Italian women in her dungeon, either by subjecting them to rape by the Beast, hooking live electric wires to their vaginas, or siccing ferocious gerbils on them (no joke: a woman is tied up and 'devoured' by two angry gerbils).
Remember how I said that this was actually three movies in one? SS Hell Camp was directed by Luigi Batzella, a rather infamous maker of horrible z-grade, no-budget Italian war/exploitation movies. The bulk of SS Hell Camp is actually totally unrelated to the Dr. Kratsch "story." It recycles a series of scenes from two similarly horrible previous Batzella movies, When the Bell Tolls (Quando Suona la Campana) and Tre Franchi di Pieta. Apparently, these movies are both about Italian partisans who conduct resistance operations against the Germans. The "protagonist" (or what passes for one) is a pacifist whose family was killed by the Germans but who refuses to kill other people. Therefore, he blows up bridges and things of that nature while others do the killing. However, the mistress of a local SS Officer (who looks about as Aryan as the Beast) is also involved in the resistance and provides valuable information to them. There's also a priest who utters the non sequitur that I'm sure sounds even worse in Italian quoted above. I'm not sure where When The Bell Tolls ends and Tre Franchi di Pieta begins, but then again, I'm not totally sure I care. Dr. Kratsch tortures partisans who bear a vague resemblance to the ones from those movies, but they're obviously different people. SPOILER ALERT: the Nazis lose.
Why is it that I hated, hated, hated this movie? Well, number one, it makes no fucking sense. Putting three random movies together is rarely a plan for success. Number two, it packages itself as a "shocking" film that will surely offend even the most jaded movie-goer. This is admittedly the reason why I bought it. I didn't think this was a forgotten Orson Welles classic. Instead of being shocked, I was bored to tears. The special effects are laughably bad and the shocking moments are more stupid than anything else (re: the gerbils). There's a part where several distinctly non-Aryan Aryan soldiers grab a baby, throw it in the air, and shoot it with their machine guns before it falls down. I mean, come on. But what really gets me is the fact that this movie tried to cash in on the Nazisploitation craze of the mid-to-late 1970s that gave us such B-grade classics as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and Salon Kitty and even inspired serious, good movies like the Night Porter. This one attempts to take all the most obvious elements that made those movies vaguely enjoyable and recreate them without any of the feeling behind them. It's like paying for a Slayer CD and instead getting some Christian metal band that sounds like Stryper on meth.
This movie fails on every conceivable level. Although it allegedly only lasts for 89 minutes, I could swear that it took me at least six years to get through it all. This movie is trashy and nonsensical. It's one of the few movies where I have actually hoped for the death of every single character (Haiku Tunnel was another). Men: watching this movie will make your testicles retract into your abdomen in horror. Women: watching this movie approximates the pain of menstruation and childbirth in one sitting. AVOID.
Brought to you by the B Movie Quest.